Thursday, January 21, 2010


Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 8:00 AM

A new initiative will train Akron citizens to produce original journalism for, the online home of Akron’s Beacon Journal.

Formerly based in Akron, Florida’s John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded $350,000 to the Akron Community Foundation for the project. (It awarded similar grants to 23 other communities with connections to the Knight family, whose organization owned the paper from 1903 through 2006.) The Akron foundation contributed another $100,000.

According to an Akron Community Foundation press release, “Project coordinators expect the portal to become a hub for neighborhood news, locally produced videos, student art projects, social networking, sports and business information, and more.”

Citizen journalists will learn how to write news and use new-media technology, from cameras to video-editing software.

“The purpose of this project is to strengthen community news and information-sharing by creating a new digital media academy that trains residents to share news and information about their neighborhoods using cutting-edge technology,” says Knight Foundation vice president of communications Marc Fest.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 3:00 PM

A Mantua Family has built the Northeast Ohio’s tallest snowwoman. Next year, they plan to set a world record.

On January 16, the Zolgus family — led by Ryan Zolgus, his brother, father and two sisters — started building a 13-foot snowman. A photographer arrived to take a picture and asked Zolgus if he planned to make it bigger. Zolgus decided to aim for 20 feet. By the time he finished, his creation stood 23 feet tall, in six segments, not including its flowerpot hat. Zolgus named it Susan, after the gigantic character from Monsters vs. Aliens.

“I wanted to prove myself, then go a little further,” says Zolgus, a musician who plays in So Be It.
Zolgus’ father runs a snowplow business, but the snowperson engineer says no machinery was used. “We made a lot of snowballs,” he explains. “You pile them up, you fill in around them, you pack them in. Then you get a ladder, then you get a bigger ladder.”

After two weeks of powdery snow and low temperatures, Saturday fell on a thaw day with perfect conditions. All over their three-and-a-half acre property, the family rolled snowballs up to three times the size of a basketball. Then they dragged them on sleds to the frontyard. They’re still sore.

Susan immediately became a roadside attraction. Cars stopped to look, and families have been taking pictures with her.

Zolgus already has a plan for next year’s snow creation. He has a diagram for a 30-foot-tall, traditional three-sphere snowperson. He hopes to attract the Guinness Book of World Records to document it as the world’s largest handmade snowman. — D.X. Ferris

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 1:00 PM

If you work downtown and park outside, you’ve probably spent the past month wiping seagull poop off your car. It’s not just you. The National Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count reports a sharp and dramatic rise in the gull population over the past three years. It’s led to thousands of gulls flying over downtown and floating on the Cuyahoga in flocks the size of a city block.

The 2007 year-end count from Lakewood reported 8,779 ring-billed gulls. In 2008, it reported 12,646. As 2009 closed, the number had more than doubled, to just over 28,000.

Ohio Division of Wildlife District Wildlife Management Supervisor Dan Kramer says the gull population has steadily risen as Lake Erie has gotten cleaner. And as the lake ices over, gulls feed inland, where warm discharge water keeps the river from freezing and pedestrians drop snacks. Kramer says the Cleveland area of Lake Erie is home to “hundreds of thousands of birds.” As the waters thaw, they’ll head back closer to Canada, farther from your car. But for now, get used to them.

“As the shoreline opens up, they’ll tend to scatter somewhat,” says Kramer. “But it won’t happen overnight.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors (and sometimes culls) bird populations around Hopkins Airport, where they might interfere with air traffic. But if you park in the Flats, you’re on your own.
Shooting gulls is definitely dangerous and probably illegal — and killing sea birds has, historically, been linked to bad luck. No one’s suggesting you should resume dumping your used oil in the lake. But next time you’re at an Indians game, maybe drink a little less so you can finish your hot dog. — D.X. Ferris

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 10:52 AM

This week's cover story, "Bled to Death," details the demise of PIE Insurance, which was liquidated by the state, perhaps unnecessarily. The biggest — arguably only — beneficiaries were the lawyers and other professionals who wracked up staggering numbers of billable hours on the autopsy.

Unfortunately, such incredible costs and time commitments involved in the liquidation of an insurance company are the norm in Ohio. In fact, PIE’s liquidation was fairly prudent compared to others. When the Ohio Insurance Liquidator, which is essentially part of the Ohio Department of Insurance, liquidated the Credit General Insurance Company, a much smaller company than PIE, they managed to drain over $60 million dollars from its $124 million of assets just in legal fees, consulting fees, professional fees and compensation for liquidator employees between January 2001 and June 2009. That means those involved in the liquidation of Credit General paid themselves approximately $28,000 per working day for eight-and-a-half years from the assets of Credit General to liquidate the company. That liquidation is still open. In comparison, the liquidators paid themselves only about $8,000 a day to liquidate PIE between March 1998 and June 2009.

With so much money to be made, it’s not surprising liquidations take so long.

“It usually takes 15-16 years,” Tom McManamon says, “because the lawyers, the consultants, the Department of Insurance, the Liquidator’s people — they feed off this carcass and the longer they can feed off this carcass the better it is [for them]… It would seem that they are not accountable to any higher authority… The liquidator has unlimited power." — Niklos Salontay

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Inside Business Magazine, a sister publication of Cleveland Magazine, has published its “Power 100,” a list of the allegedly most influential 100 Northeast Ohioans, in its January/February issue, compiled by senior editor Erick Trickey. The list may indeed be an accurate reflection of who wields power in Northeast Ohio, but if so, it’s an unhopeful commentary on the region’s future.

The list is heavily loaded with the same type of people who have brought this area to a standstill (at best) with last-century thinking and a circle-the-wagons-and-protect-the-wealthy attitude. Reading the names and what they represent is a backward glimpse into the Cleveland of 50 years ago.

The list is led by Cleveland Clinic President/CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove (pictured), who spearheads Cleveland’s major growth sector, health care. The Cleveland Clinic is the area’s biggest employer, and Cosgrove has pushed many laudable health initiatives. But he was also the impetus behind the convention center/medical mart project, a stereotypical example of an obsolete approach to economic transformation.

The second name on the list, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, has had a mixed impact. While he has steadied the helm in a difficult time in the city’s history, no one would mistake him for a visionary who seeks out cutting-edge ways to transform it, not simply maintain the status quo.

The rest is a depressingly predictable parade of usual suspects: corporate and bank chieftains, university presidents, politicians and even Plain Dealer publisher Terry Egger and editor Susan Goldberg. Big law-firm partners far outnumber innovative entrepreneurs in forward-looking sectors, like BioEnterprises’s Baiju Shah. Those involved in sustainability and green energy, neighborhood renewal, human services and the arts are missing. And the list is loaded with Issue 6 supporters like Judy Rawson, Bruce Akers, Nina Turner and Marty Zanotti, whose influence beyond pushing this issue is dubious (Cleveland Magazine, like the Plain Dealer, plugged Issue 6 and seems to be sharing the PD’s triumphalism in its victory).

Remove politicians like Joe Cimperman and Marcia Fudge, and the average annual income is likely more than a million dollars. (Actually, don’t remove them: LeBron James, perhaps the list’s most bizarre entry, alone balances their modest incomes.)

Frankly, if Sam Miller, Dick Pogue, Joe Roman, Charles and Albert Ratner, Ed Crawford, Umberto Fideli, Fred Nance, Mal Mixon and the chairmen of Eaton Corp., Sherwin-Williams and Parker-Hannifin still represent Northeast Ohio’s power base, this region isn’t moving into the 21st century anytime soon.

One more depressing stat: Of 100 names on the list, only 17 are women. Unfortunately, that’s about average nationwide: It precisely reflects the percentage of women in Congress today. — Anastasia Pantsios

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Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 at 8:01 AM

A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County sheriff's office confirmed Tuesday that deputies have opened a criminal investigation at Garfield Heights City Hall. Spokesperson John O'Brien declined to detail the nature of the investigation, but sources tell Scene that the probe revolves around a man who was on the city's payroll until late last year. There are questions as to whether the man, Joseph Stewart, actually did any work for the southeast Cuyahoga County suburb.

According to those sources, investigators plan to interview current Mayor Vic Collova and outgoing Finance Director Richard Obert about the ex-city worker. Stewart's role with the city was questioned earlier this year by city officials who said they'd never heard of the man, despite his listing on the city's payroll as a recreation department worker.

Stewart's name appears on a list of city workers whom the city let go in 2009. His annual wage is listed at $42,000, but Obert said Stewart did not make that much money and was considered a part-time employee. Obert did not have Stewart's file available at the time of the interview and could not provide contact information for the man. Neither Collova nor Obert could not be reached Tuesday night.

In an interview with Scene on January 6, Obert said Collova terminated Stewart on November 30. Obert was vague about the number of years Stewart worked with the city, saying only that Stewart had been employed by the city for over a decade. Obert described Stewart as a writer who produced the city's newsletters and brochures.

Stewart, according to Obert, was hired by former mayor Thomas Longo. Longo stepped down from the mayor's position last year after not seeking re-election; he had been mayor of the suburb for 26 years.

O'Brien, of the sheriff's office, said Garfield Heights Police Chief Tom Murphy requested that deputies conduct the investigation. — Damian Guevara

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 4:19 PM

Governor Ted Strickland today announced his pick of Yvette McGee Brown as his running mate for lieutenant governor, replacing Lee Fisher, who’s running for U.S. Senate.

Ohio Republican Party chair Kevin DeWine wasted no time revealing either his ignorance or deliberate duplicity (you decide): “He’s had nearly a year to make this selection, and the best he could come up with in the face of an unprecedented fiscal emergency is a social worker with no experience in public finance or state government,” said DeWhiner-in-chief at GOP headquarters.

Well, not exactly. Brown, a lifelong Columbus resident, is an attorney and former Franklin County common pleas judge where she served in the domestic relations and juvenile divisions. She is founding and current president of the nonprofit Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. A bio posted at Columbus’ TV 10 News site adds, “In her role at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she leads a team of 400 child abuse, medical, and behavioral health professionals that in just five short years has become a national model for integration of multi-disciplinary services.

It also notes, “She serves on the boards of Ohio University, the Ohio State University Medical Center, the Columbus Academy and the Community Shelter Board. She also serves on the boards of M/I Homes, Inc. and Fifth Third Bank of Central Ohio.”

She isn’t, as far as I can tell, a social worker (as if that were a bad thing.) Apparently, DeWine just doesn’t like the fact that she seems to have dedicated much of her life to making other peoples’ lives better — especially kids. It’s also an oblique way of suggesting that she’s maybe just a bit too female to handle a tough job.

If anything, she sounds overqualified for the job, especially compared to Republican candidate John Kasich’s choice of Ohio state auditor Mary Taylor, an Akron CPA who has shown a tendency to use her office to single out Democratic officials.

But let’s look at Kevin DeWine’s own impressive résumé, shall we? With a B.S. (good degree for him!) in business from the University of Dayton and an MBA from Wright State, he toiled in middle management at the Dayton Light and Power Company before becoming a state legislator in 2000. He moved up from deputy chair to chair of the ORP in early 2009. And … that’s pretty much it. Kev, here’s a tip: Disagree with peoples’ policies all you like, but when you demean a record as stellar as Brown’s in this manner, you sound like a raging sexist boor. — Anastasia Pantsios

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